Sutcliffe was never a skilled musician, having joined the group because of his friendship with John Lennon. Lennon convinced him to buy a bass guitar with the money he had made from the sale of one his paintings. He was very uncomfortable on stage and usually played with his back to the audience. He left the Beatles to pursue his career as an artist before they achieved their success, and died not long thereafter from a brain hemorrhage. It has been claimed that this was the result of a beating sustained in Liverpool while a member of the group, but it is more likely to have been a hereditary condition. Paul McCartney, previously one of three guitar players in the group, replaced Sutcliffe on bass.
Sutcliffe's importance to the group came from his artistic rather than musical talent. He was the first to have a ‘Beatles' haircut, and his sense of style, helped by his lover Astrid Kirchherr contributed to the early Beatles look.
As an artist Sutcliffe displayed considerable talent from an early age. His few surviving works show the influence of the British and European abstract artists contemporary with the Abstract Expressionist movement in the United States. His more figurative work is reminiscent of the kitchen sink school, particularly John Bratby. His later gestural abstractions bear comparison with John Hoyland and Nicholas de Stael, though they are more lyrical.
Sutcliffe's story and decision to leave the group is told in the movie Backbeat.